Monday, 4 February 2013

Omitted material: What If? Classic volume 2

Another look at some of the Spider-Man issues of the original What If? series.

#7: "What If Somebody else besides Spider-Man had been bitten by the radioactive spider?", written by Don Glut and drawn by Rick Hoberg, reprinted in What If? Classic volume 2

The title to this one is a little long winded but "What If someone else was Spider-Man?" wouldn't work as none of the three people actually uses the name "Spider-Man". Instead we get first "Captain Spider" aka Flash Thompson, "The Amazing Spider-Girl" aka Betty Brant and "Spider-Jameson" aka Colonel John Jameson (Jonah's son). Unfortunately with three separate stories to tell plus the basic set-up there isn't much time to develop any of them. Flash's story sees him at first try to use his powers at wrestling but he accidentally kills Crusher Hogan and is forced to flee. He adopts the identity of Captain Spider and has a brief superhero career, but his over-confidence and lack of webs are his undoing when he fights the Vulture and falls to his death. Betty Brant also develops a friendship with Peter Parker who becomes her confident and equipment designer. She enjoys a brief career in a very revealing costume, but Betty finds her powers overwhelm her. Consequently there comes a point where she's run out of web fluid and fails to stop a thief running past. The thief goes on to kill Peter's Uncle Ben and Betty tracks him down and captures him... but upon realising she could have stopped him she realises she cannot handle the responsibility and abandons her identity. Colonel Jameson becomes the first marketed hero with his father pushing him into the role, but comes to grief when he tries to save an out of control space capsule as his jetpack fails and the capsule crushes him to death. At the unveiling of a memorial Jonah opts to dedicate himself to supporting other heroes. The epilogue shows that in all three stories Peter Parker has retrieved the dead spider and extracts the venom to create a serum to become Spider-Man. This issue came out not long after Spidey's guest appearance in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 and both issues float the idea that it is Peter's destiny to become Spider-Man. Whilst much of the point of the What If? issue is that it takes more to be Spider-Man than just being bitten by a radioactive spider and putting on a red & blue costume, and unlike the Two-In-One annual there's no reference to Lord Chaos and Master Order manipulating him, I just don't like the idea of the every-man hero being pushed into his role by destiny. Otherwise the issue as a whole has few points that stand out beyond Betty Brant's costume and the possibility that Jonah could have been a friend to superheroes under different circumstances.

#8: "What If the World Knew That Daredevil Is Blind?", written by Don Glut and drawn by Alan Kupperberg & "What If the spider had been bitten by a radioactive human?", written & drawn by Scott Shaw, both reprinted in What If? Classic volume 2

This issue contained one serious and one humorous story. In the former Spider-Man make a small guest appearance when he accidentally stumbles into Daredevil's first fight with Electro. Consequently the fight goes differently and Electro soon realises that Daredevil is blind, confirmed when Daredevil can't answer his question about the colour of his costume - and tells the world. Daredevil continues fighting crime even though his foes try everything to stop him but Karen Page soon deduces his identity and persuades Matt Murdock to undergo an eye operation. He agrees and it doesn't cost him his enhanced senses but soon afterwards he loses them anyway when shutting down an atomic pile. Matt retires his Daredevil identity but wears the costume one last time when he's kidnapped by the Owl. He defeats the Owl who perishes in an explosion and Daredevil decides that he could have saved his foe had he still had his senses. He calls a press conference where he reveals his identity (as so many were deducing it anyway), retires from superheroing altogether and runs for District Attorney. He is successfully elected and marries Karen. This is a rare What If? with a happy ending but it falls into the trap of telling too much of the story through accelerated narration and also keeping close to the events in the original series. But it's one of the truest to the idea that a simple change can have drastic repercussions.

(Oh and the continuity is potentially messed up as the issue claims Amazing Spider-Man #25 and Daredevil #2 took place simultaneously. But considering Spidey and Daredevil first met in Amazing #16 this is unlikely - but What The heck!)

The second story is a comedy piece, set in a world of anthropomorphic animals, years before the likes of Spider-Ham came on the scene, and is narrated not by the Watcher but by editor Roy Thomas standing in for him. We learn how "Webster Weaver", a nerdish teenage spider gets bitten by a human and developed enhanced powers and adopts the identity of "Man-Spider". The story follows the familiar course of his failure to stop a crook who kills his "Uncle Bug", only this time he doesn't initially track down said crook. Instead he fights crime generally until one day a mysterious foe blackmails the world with a threat to destroy the atmosphere - it's "Raze", a living can of fly-spray (and I don't know if the name is a pun on a brand that I've never encountered) and also the being who killed Uncle Bug. Man-Spider gets captured but Raze throws an explosive which accidentally blows up the spray can. Man-Spider feels better about Uncle Bug's death but now has to face Aunt Mayfly's chicken-pox soup. This is an intentionally silly piece, satirising funny animal comics, and frankly one will either adore or hate it. But it's only eight pages long. And I'm surprised to discover that people were concerned about CFCs and the Ozone Layer as early as 1977.

The other tales in the second volume are:
  • #9: "What If the Avengers Had Fought Evil During the 1950's?"
  • #10: "What If Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor?"
  • #11: "What If the Original Marvel Bullpen Had Become the Fantastic Four?"
  • #12: "What If Rick Jones Had Become the Hulk?"
Issue #9 is another of those stories that might have actually been set in the regular Marvel universe rather than an alternate reality, and the Watcher is non-committal on this point but it would be a few decades before anyone addressed it again. But when they did, we got to see a team made up of some of the 1950 Atlas heroes who were first put together here. Issue #11 is, I think, the last time Jack Kirby drew a Fantastic Four comic though on this occasion the cast and premise are very different from the original.

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